"I've been fortunate that Pat and the University of Tennessee have continued to play Old Dominion for many, many years and specifically some of the greatest teams that I've had the privilege of coaching we've come into this building and really gotten drilled," ODU coach Wendy Larry said. "And for our little militia to come in here and fight and scrap and claw and do what they need to do to stay in the game I can't even begin to tell you how proud I am of them. We're kind of mis-sized at every position right now. We're not 100 percent healthy, but we really battled hard today."
The Lady Monarchs played well enough to lead the game in the first half by three points – 21-18 at the 9:22 mark – and to whittle an 18-point Tennessee lead to six in the second half – 67-61 at the 7:12 mark – but the Lady Vols had too much offense and enough defense to pull away for good and win by 16.
"We got beat off the dribble a lot in the first half," Summitt said. "I thought we did a better job in the second half. I thought Alexis Hornbuckle and Nicky Anosike just brought the energy. The two of them just changed the whole complexion of the game, and that really gave us a great lift."
The complexion of the upper level changed in the second half when the section of lights went out, but it didn't affect the lighting on the floor. Tennessee shot 52 percent for the game; Old Dominion shot 45.9 percent.
Tennessee guard Shanna Zolman led all scorers with 23 points. Anosike had 17 points, and Hornbuckle added 14. Candace Parker was also in double digits with 10 points. The Lady Monarchs lacked size – two post players are sidelined in 6'4 center Tamara Ransburg (torn ACL in knee) and 6'2 forward Tiffany Green (broken foot) – so they compensate with quickness and penetration.
Forward Sherida Triggs led Old Dominion University with 16 points and guard T.J. Jordan had 17, with 15 of those coming from behind the arc. Forward Shahida Williams added 10 points.
Summitt used a variety of post players to defend the smaller but quicker Lady Monarchs with mixed success. Parker came out of the game with under nine minutes to go in the second half to allow sophomore Sybil Dosty to have a crack at chasing after them.
"The possessions at the end before she came out she was just playing behind," Summitt said of Parker's defense. "We really want to try to limit some touches. I wanted to go with Sybil and give her a chance because of her size and just her physical play."
Dosty logged 15 minutes and had two blocks. Redshirt freshman Alex Fuller got nine minutes and also brought some defensive heat.
"I thought her defensive intensity in the second half was really good," Summitt said of Fuller.
The post player who was the most effective on both ends of the floor was Anosike. Besides her points – 5-7 from the field; 7-8 from the line – she had three rebounds, three steals and a sweet assist to Parker in which she motioned Parker toward the lane and fired the ball to her right under the basket.
"I thought Nicky made the most of her opportunities and her minutes at both ends," Summitt said. "She just brings a lot of energy. She's so active on the offensive end. If she positions and can't get open, then she'll reseal or move and cut. She's the player that plays well without the ball. In a lot of instances she was able to position to get the pass, which was going to lead to a direct scoring opportunity. That's when your posts have a chance to be very efficient."
For her part, Anosike said she was trying to play within herself.
"More so than anything I was just trying to let it come to me rather than trying to force shots and try to make everything happen," Anosike said. "I was taking whatever they gave me, and I was successful doing that. I'm going to try and continue to take that approach every game."
Zolman took what they gave her and then some – she was 6-10 from the field with three 3-pointers and a perfect 8-8 from the line – but also shared space with Hornbuckle on the stat sheet with six rebounds.
"Anytime you have a team (like ODU) that takes a lot of outside shots, you're going to have that," Summitt said. "You're going to have longer rebounds. All five people should be rebounding on the defensive end depending on where the shots are taken and how far out they might extend on the rebound. I just think guards have to rebound. Alexis has been really very consistent in her rebounding. It's good to see Shanna (on the boards). It's good to see her rebound on the defensive end."
Hornbuckle, who also had six rebounds, welcomed the perimeter help.
"Shanna did an excellent, excellent job getting to the boards," Hornbuckle said. "She surprised me a little bit. When you have help from every position crashing the board it definitely takes a load off our post players, and it just opens up our transition game. I think our guards did a great job of crashing the boards. Hopefully, Shanna can average about five or six for the rest of the season."
Tennessee out-rebounded Old Dominion, 31-28, but the Lady Monarchs actually led in that category in the first half and tried to match the Lady Vols' intensity on the glass.
"Since I've been here as a freshman our thing is to rebound," said the junior Triggs. "If we don't do anything else we take pride in rebounding. We must check out. If we don't do anything else, we could have as many turnovers as we want, we can score as many points as we want, but if we don't rebound it's not going to go well."
"I agree with Triggs as far as getting on the glass," Jordan said. "Our team is trying to be more aggressive and wants the ball more. Everybody from the guard position on, everybody's getting more hungry. Once we start rebounding we're in a lot of games because of it."
After starting the season by getting waxed by then No. 1 Duke, 93-56, the Lady Monarchs have tried to regroup. They nearly beat No. 5 North Carolina but fell in overtime last week. ODU ended its non-conference schedule by playing No. 1 Tennessee.
"We come into this basketball game tonight, and we've had quite a non-conference schedule," Larry said. "And the whole experience ironically started with us playing the No. 1 team in the nation in Duke in our non-conference schedule and we ended our non-conference schedule by playing the No. 1 team in Tennessee. There's only one team in the world that will ever have that distinct honor. We talked about what happened then and what's happening now. We're pleased that we were able to battle here today."
ODU now moves into play in the Colonial Athletic Association with a Friday game at Virginia Commonwealth. Summitt, whose team starts SEC play Wednesday at South Carolina, remarked that Larry appears as committed to competition as she does when it comes to scheduling.
"Honestly I think Wendy plays a tougher schedule than I do," Summitt said. "It's going to help them. Again, watching them play North Carolina, watching them play tonight, I just think that they're growing through the pain of having to take some losses. I think it can help them when they get into league play."
Larry almost agreed.
"I think it's close," she said in terms of toughness. "But we schedule a year out. Unfortunately because of some of the injuries that we suffered we didn't know exactly the roster that we had nor did we think it was going to be this roster. I can't say enough about some of the young women that at one point in time this year thought they were going to be significant subs, and now all of a sudden they're significant starters."
Against Tennessee, Old Dominion succeeded in getting inside to score by dribble penetration and offensive rebounding.
"I think they're a team that they just play well together," Summitt said. "They didn't force. You knew who was going to take three-point shots. You knew who the mid-range jump shooters were. They didn't try to do anything differently. They stuck to what they've been doing. I think they're a very disciplined team. I think they'll fare well in their conference."
Larry said her team's approach was to take the ball at Tennessee.
"I think we have really some tremendous one-on-one players, and what we had to do is try to just kind of isolate an awful lot of Tennessee one on one," Larry said. "And that's very difficult to do because they play just great team defense. On the flip side of that, one of the dilemmas that we have right now is we can't play defense without putting people on the foul line. The difference in this basketball game down the stretch – I would say seven of the last nine possessions – was that we put them on the foul line with two shots. In our 11 possessions we went to the foul line once."
Tennessee took 28 free throws and made 24 of them. ODU took seven and made six. Larry wasn't complaining about the discrepancy. She knows her team fouls too much.
"We have to learn how to play a much more effective defense," Larry said. "We can't bail ourselves out everytime we foul. Give credit where credit is due. We're not talking about chopped liver here; we are talking about the No. 1 team in the nation. I would say at times we didn't have a choice but to foul. But there were other times that I felt our position was not very good and that we could have done a much better job without having to put them on the line. … I think some of the (defensive) decisions that we made probably can be corrected."
Summitt is still making her own corrections and trying various combinations on the floor of forwards and centers. She has moved junior Sidney Spencer into the starting lineup at small forward so that Parker can start at power forward. Spencer rebounded from a shaky start at Notre Dame to score nine points and pull down five boards. At times it seems Spencer plays better off the bench, but Summitt said she needs her now.
"I've been pleased with Sidney's progress overall," Summitt said. "She didn't have a good start against Notre Dame, but that's OK. She just needs to get over it (in terms of starting). Because she's going to start unless I get really mad at her."
Fuller and Dominique Redding will spell Spencer at the three spot. Fuller also can play the four spot and in one of Summitt's combinations Monday night, Fuller was at center. Redding ran the point for the last two minutes of the game in relief of Hornbuckle, who logged 37 minutes.
"Alex is playing at the three, four and obviously Spencer's play cut into Alex's time as well as Dominique's," Summitt said. "I like the way Spencer was playing, thought she brought a lot to our team. That's part of what happens. When Nicky Anosike is playing the way she's playing then she's going to take minutes away from other post players. You just hope you find out early in the game who's ready to play and bring it."
NOTRE DAME REVISITED:: Zolman bounced back from a bad outing at Notre Dame on Saturday – she was 1-7 from the field and held to five points. The Fighting Irish defenders stuck to her throughout the game and denied her the basketball.
Against ODU, a quick and athletic team, Zolman was able to get herself free and get some open looks.
"I think the biggest thing was just movement," said Zolman, an Indiana native who had a large contingent of hometown fans in the crowd at South Bend. "They were like glue on me at Notre Dame, and that's how people are going to be guarding me from here on out. That's something I have to be a lot more aware of and keep much more of a conscious effort to just keep on moving continuously and getting my timing down. When the ball's getting reversed, like if Lex is up top, then I've got to be (getting into position) to get myself open, rather than waiting a little bit later to do so as I was. It's just a constant effort of making sure my teammates are getting the ball and letting my game come to me and just being able to move to get myself open and then being able to do whatever I need to do to make our team successful."
During Monday's post-game press conference, a TV monitor mounted on the wall showed the Fiesta Bowl football game in progress between Ohio State and Notre Dame. Zolman was asked which team she wanted to win the game.
She paused for a moment and then smiled.
"That was an easy answer for you prior to last game. I don't know right now. I'll say no comment on that one," Zolman said to much laughter.
SEC'S GOT NEXT: Tennessee takes its perfect slate to South Carolina next to open up SEC play. The Lady Vols will have a short practice Tuesday at home and then leave for Wednesday night's game in Columbia (7 p.m. CSS, Lady Vol Radio Network).
Summitt was asked if the players were worried about starting conference play.
"They don't worry; coaches worry," Summitt said with a smile. "They just get ready for the next game. They haven't seen South Carolina. We'll do our scouting here tomorrow before we leave."
COACH'S CORNER: It can be interesting to ask opposing coaches for their first impressions of Candace Parker. One visiting coach this season gave a long answer without ever saying her name and cautioned that the focus shouldn't be on her. Others have lauded her performance.
Parker has been held in check, relatively speaking, for the last two games. Notre Dame played very physical against the post players, and some of Parker's early shots rattled in and out. Old Dominion packed the paint. Also, Tennessee was using a lot of combinations at the forward spots, which can disrupt offensive flow, and the ball didn't always find its way inside often enough.
ODU's Wendy Larry was asked for her initial impressions of Parker.
"I think she is certainly very, very gifted," Larry said. "As she continues to learn selection – when she's going to shoot it; when she's going to pass it – she'll be one of the greatest that they've ever had here. It's about her maturation, what's a good shot, what's not a good shot and how she actually connects with her other four teammates on the floor."
Larry agreed that watching the maturation of such a player would be engaging, especially for Tennessee fans.
"I think she's got great skills for her size, but the jury's still out on what those types of players become," she said. "Certainly she's in the right place to learn a system."